Maui News

More Fish-Luring FADs Are Adrift, Causing Navigation/Wildlife Issues in Hawai’i Waters

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  • A homemade drifting FAD (fish aggregating device) washed ashore in Hawai’i. Photo Courtesy: DLNR
  • This is an offiical Hawaiʻi State FAD (fishing aggregating device) that is anchored in deep water to prevent becoming a navigation hazzard. Photo Courtesy: Hank Lynch, The Nature Conservancy
  • A makeshift FAD (fish aggregating device) washed ashore on Kauaʻi. Photo Courtesy: Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund
  • These are remnants from a drifting FAD (fishing aggregate device) that is used to lure fish for fishers to catch. Photo Courtesy: DLNR

Hawai‘i has been experiencing an uptick in foreign and domestic fish aggregating devices, or “FADs”, that are adrift in nearshore waters or washing up along the coast, creating navigation hazards and entanglement of marine mammals, birds and turtles.  

Since 1980, the state has installed and maintained the Hawai‘i FAD program that deploys FADS offshore around the Hawaiian islands to attract sportfishing species, including tuna, dolphinfish (mahi-mahi), wahoo (ono) and billfish. These local FADs are usually large yellow metal buoys with a lighted top pole, and anchored in deep water. They shouldn’t drift to limit entanglement potential for aquatic wildlife and help fishermen to better locate and catch targeted fishes. However, they may break free from their chains on occasion.

It is illegal for private or fishing industry FADs to be deployed in Hawai‘i state waters, but this type of fishing gear and practice is legal elsewhere, including the central Pacific. Fishing with drifting FADS or “dFADs” is a common practice within the purse-seine fishery (including the U.S. fleet), usually targeting dense schools of pelagic fish, such as sardines, mackerel and tuna. These FADs can be made from a variety of natural or manufactured materials including bamboo, plastic pipes, mesh nets or lines, and buoys.


The purse-seine boats put satellite-tracked FADs in the ocean and return later to net the attracted fish, according to Hank Lynch, with The Nature Conservancy and Makanakai Marine Services.

But sometimes these dFADs that are deployed both legally and illegally will drift outside the feasible range of the fishing fleet or the GPS tracking devices will fail. These lost dFADs become derelict fishing gear, one of the most common and problematic categories of marine debris. Since the oceans have no tangible boundaries, dFADs and other gear items can find their way into state waters, where they’re more likely to impact boaters and wildlife.  

These FADs are drifting into Hawaiian waters more frequently in recent years. Several organizations, including Hawai‘i Pacific University’s Center for Marine Debris Research, are working in collaboration with industry professionals to utilize existing satellite tracking technologies to track these FADs at sea as they approach Hawaiian shorelines.


“Where you find one net at sea, you very often find many,” Lynch said.   

On Hawai‘i Island alone, local staff at the state Department of Land and Natural Resource’s Division of Aquatic Resources documented 16 FADs since July 2015, with about half containing a satellite tracking device. This is a concerning amount as each FAD has the potential to injure native aquatic wildlife and transport invasive species into Hawai‘i.  

FADs are encountered by or reported to a wide variety of agencies and organizations, including the US Coast Guard, DLNR and nonprofits with marine debris programs. This interisland network is key, as drifting marine debris requires a swift response if it’s to be removed before it becomes lost in the open ocean.  


Many organizations are working with academic institutions and government agencies on FAD support, research and recovery efforts. They include the Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaiʻi, Ocean Defenders Alliance, Makanakai Marine Services and Blue Ocean Mariculture.

Assistance from the public to identify and report marine debris also remains one of the most valuable and efficient means to help cover the full extent of the islands. Please report any large or hazardous marine debris items to DLNR on the marine debris response and removal reporting form or call the new statewide hotline at 1-833-4DA-NETS.   

The Hawai‘i FAD program is currently operated by the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology, the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, and the University of Hawai‘i in cooperation with the DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources.


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